California is associated in the minds of most Americans with the world of Hollywood. A native of Los Angeles, Laurence Goldstein writes poems that begin in the wonderful world of imagination but which pointedly render the all-too-real foibles and frailties of the human subjects involved. Popular culture is symbolized in “Thanks for the Memory,” a picture of the writer’s mother’s friendship with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, symbolic of “lost youth” which the mother missed because of the writer’s birth. In “Isaac and Mae” we read about the Nazis’ deeds, remembered by some in a generation, “Nobody knows the story but me. I’ve lived/a lie. No, worse. I chose to forget the truth./Why should it drum and drum at me all day” and others, “I will honor your father. I will light the candle.” Criswell the prophet fills the writer’s memories and present reality with his dire predictions and exotic musings on UFOs and stargazers, “And who would have predicted how many fans are flocking to you on their angel wings and dancing around your beaming spirit like happy geese in a halo of light?” A second section focuses on such well-known celebrities as William Carlos Williams, Arthur Miller, the sculpture “Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii” of Bulwer-Lytton, Frederic Prokosch, John Barth, and more. Moving into the apocalyptic mode, the poet in “Consummation” ironically shocks the reader with a description of the terrorist who “hurled myself on yourself… a fervent embrace, a destiny…Soul I will not recognize as mine/Soul I will not recognize as mine.” The final section invokes a medieval potentate, Prester John, to help save a world doomed to self-destruction. A dark but vital part of American life draws the reader to question, study and contemplate who we are and where we are heading.
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.